As every schoolchild once learned, at least before standardized testing, South Carolina precipitated the nullification crisis in 1832 by passing a law that said it could, essentially, pick and choose which federal laws would apply within the state. The immediate complaint was the tariff, but of course the deeper issues were slavery and state rights. And, as the child once learned, Old Hickory forced the South Carolina firebrands to back down, preserving the union.
What is less discussed is Andrew Jackson's situational approach to the rule of law. Indian Removal, one of the few national issues about which the Old Hero was specific and passionate, broke numerous solemn treaties and enacted theft and ethnic cleansing against the Five Civilized Tribes. When the Supreme Court finally found in favor of the Cherokee Nation, Jackson simply ignored it. Georgia and other Southern states wanted that improved and cultivated Indian land for plantations and the spread of slavery. Jackson was a slaveholder himself. He was also happy to allow South Carolina and other Southern states to ignore federal law when it furthered white supremacy. What he wouldn't countenance was secession, and hence the object lesson on nullification (and the tariff was modified anyway).
Which brings us to 21st century Arizona, the Crazy State. Prop. 120 asks voters to approve the following: "The State of Arizona declares its sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its boundaries..." Exceptions are made for Indian reservations and federal land that had been "ceded" in a way, I suppose, Arizona decided was Constitutional. I am not making this up.
Of course, this is partly for show. Unlike South Carolina in the 1830s, Arizona is not raising troops to protect its state rights, and it lacks a John C. Calhoun. Today's conservatives love to make a show of pre-Civil War reenactment; think Gov. Rick Perry's talk about Texas secession, etc. etc. But they never seem to leave the union, too bad for us. One big reason is that most red states are net takers, getting back more in federal dollars than they send to D.C. in taxes. But talk of trampled state rights and infringed "sovereignty" helps keep the base agitated and angry.
According to a Capitol Media Services story in the Arizona Daily Star, most legislative supporters realize there's little chance that Congress would give the state control of the land. "Still, they say there is a good reason for Arizona voters to declare sovereignty over all that federal land, and it could make a difference, even without congressional action, by forcing federal agencies to be more responsive to requests to make use of those public lands." The sponsor, Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, trots out the forest industry as an example, how it was killed off because of environmental rulings and thus the forests weren't thinned, resulting in terrible fires that burned spotted own habitat, blah, blah, blah.
Excuse me if I question the sincerity of the distinguished gentleman, but what the hell is he doing living in Heber anyway? The only reason the Mogollon Rim has all those "cabins" (i.e. subdivisions) is because of sleazy federal land swaps that accomplished what is the real dream of Prop. 120: A real-estate hustle. Imagine how many visions of "master planned communities" — with championship golf — are dancing in their heads if the state could get control of more land.
Logging was indeed a substantial part of the northern Arizona economy at one time, but it never made money by gently "thinning" the forests. That was when the population was miniscule and the scale of the industry was small. Beyond the spotted-owl ruling, the forests of the Southwest regenerate much more slowly than those in the Northwest and Canada, and the money for decades has been in large-scale clear-cutting. If the supporters of 120 are really interested in forestry, then I am Valinda Jo Elliott, stomping off into the wilderness with my survival gear of flip-flops, cigarettes, lighter and towel.
The proportion of public lands held by the feds in Western states is a long-standing grievance. I was raised to believe that. Now, I say, "Thank God!" It has been one restraining factor (another being water) keeping the most majestic parts of the state from being one big Prescott Valley. The offense to sovereignty has been land swaps that enriched a few connected players at the expense of the forests and the public. Years ago, I predicted that if the extremist Republican tide continued, we would eventually see Arizona's public lands sold off and National Parks and Forests privatized. We're not there yet. But the larger aspiration of Prop. 120 is clear.
Saddest of all, many people actually think these lands are owned by some elitist socialist bureaucrats in D.C. The concept of public lands, of a common trust for all of us and for future generations, eludes them.